Saturday, January 11, 2014

Review: "The Ocean at the End of the Lane," by Neil Gaiman

I continue my journey through books that I should have read last year with Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” ($25.99, William Morrow).

I’m kind of embarrassed that I didn’t manage to get to this book in 2013. There are few writers in the world right now that I hold in higher regard than Gaiman, and he doesn’t disappoint with this short tale of a man transported back to his childhood.

The narrator of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” whose name we don’t know, has returned to his childhood home in England to deliver a eulogy at a funeral. Afterward, he wanders back through his past, visiting the place he once lived and a small cottage at the end of that lane where three exceptional women – the Hempstocks – reside. As he sits beside the pond at the back of the house, memories of his childhood, long locked away, come flooding back over him, and we, the readers, are taken along for an improbable and fascinating ride.

One of the things that I love about Gaiman is the fact that I can always expect something inventive and different from him. Rarely are you going to get a straightforward narrative, but instead you feel as though you are on a journey through the story with the characters. And you’re never quite sure where you’re going to end up.

As always, the book is very well written, bringing a children’s book-like quality to an adult tale. Like his best work, “Ocean at the End of the Lane” has a sort of dreamlike and whimsical quality to it. There’s a dash of Lewis Carroll, but perhaps a bit more esoteric. You can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner, and it’s not often that Gaiman disappoints.

In fact, the only disappointment for me in “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” was that it ended so soon. At only about 150 pages on my Nook edition, I was forced out of the world of our narrator and the Hempstocks long before I wanted to leave and with a lot of questions remaining. There, though, is part of the fun. Gaiman leaves much for the reader to think about, and he also leaves much open to the interpretation of the individual reader. It’s one of many things that makes Gaiman probably the best fantasist writing today.

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